Pinterest WINS! Food edition

I’m sure all of you have spent a little time cruising Pinterest Fail: a blog dedicated to documenting Pinterest projects that didn’t quite work out (or crashed and burned miserably), or at least seen some of the best (worst) that have gone viral. If you’re like me, you’re the most skeptical the first time you make a recipe found on Pinterest—but lucky for you, I’ve had lots of time to experiment lately, so here are more than a few of the best!

Editor’s note: All photos in this post belong to the creator of each recipe, which are linked to within the copy.

daf62d8f28980ca7c789deaa201dbcafBREAD
I’ve been making Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits for so long that I no longer need a recipe—in fact I forgot I had even pinned it until I started putting together this post! They live up to their restaurant counterparts and are super quick and easy to put together. They’re a great accompaniment to soups and garlicky meat dishes.

Our family’s Christmas tradition is to stay home all day and spend the afternoon making and eating hors-d’oeuvres. We all have our perennial favorites, but we try to each bring something new to the party as well every year. A few years ago, my new app was Homemade Soft Pretzels and Beer Cheese Dip. They’re both putzy and time-consuming, but if you’ve got a couple hours, they’re great!

I love apple fritters—they might be one of my favorite doughnuts. So when I saw Apple Fritter Pull-Apart bread, I had to try it. Sure, it’s sort of semi-homemade, with the “bread” being Pillsbury biscuits, but it does contain fresh fruit, so that’s good, right?

160a996218f31918bebdc346a744c622PASTA & SIDES
Dining options in Bermuda are fairly limited when it comes to non-American or Western Europe cuisine. So to satisfy my cravings, I’ve been learning to cook Asian dishes—and this One Pot Thai Pasta is by far the easiest! I was skeptical because it seemed too easy, but the flavor was spot on and didn’t taste as though it had been created in 15 minutes with fairly mundane ingredients (I skipped the tamarind paste and fish sauce).

I love homemade pasta. I make huge batches of ravioli a few times per year so I always have some in my freezer. A few weeks ago, I had some girlfriends over for a ravioli-making party, but I wanted to make something else for dinner so we’d all have plenty to take home. In keeping with the theme, I whipped up some Lemon-Pepper Pasta. (Full disclosure: I didn’t really use this exact recipe, but melded it with my regular pasta recipe, which can be found here.) The lemon added a great hit of freshness to the tender pasta that went perfectly with a few shrimp and some pesto.

When I had had enough of my Thanksgiving leftovers (but still had a full fridge), I started searching for recipes that would use up some of the things I had the most of—including sweet potatoes. When used in Sweet Potato Gnocchi, they lend another level of flavor and make the fluffy little pillows even lighter and more delicious. Throw them in a pan with some browned butter and sage (you can even melt a little goat cheese on top—yum!) and they’re a truly delicious side or meal.

b974fce6386f4fe34710f8a705837157MEAT
I happen to live with a man who doesn’t consider it a meal if it doesn’t contain meat. While he’s happy with a simply grilled steak or chicken breast, I’ve been on the hunt for more interesting flavors—this Slow-Cooker Balsamic Pork is perfect! I’ve made it with pork tenderloin that I sliced to serve and a pork shoulder (butt) that I shredded for sandwiches.

A few months before I moved to Bermuda, Andrew took some house guests deep sea fishing. I’m not a huge fan of baked fish, but I needed to find something to do with all that frozen wahoo! Luckily, I had just stumbled across Baked Honey-Marinated Cod, which sounded sort of like the Black Cod dish from Nobu that I had been craving. Obviously it didn’t quite measure up to all that, but it was really good!

DESSERT
I have a pretty serious sweet tooth, but baking is really not my thing—all that measuring! So I’ve really just got one trusty, easy dessert recipe, and I’m sure you’ve heard of it: Three Ingredient Brownies. It’s not quite chocolatey enough for my taste, so I would recommend stirring in some extra chocolate chips. Or, for a fancier addition, I’ve also topped them with caramel and a sprinkle of sea (or Kosher) salt for salted caramel brownies! Now those are dangerous!

 

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Travel Guide: New Orleans

New Orleans is quite possibly my favorite vacation destination. I love the atmosphere (off Bourbon Street, that is), the architecture, the cocktails, the food—oh and one of my best friends has lived there since right after high school. So, inspired by my fifth visit a few weeks ago, here’s your guide!

Where to eat: I quite literally plan my days around meals in New Orleans, so this category comes first this time around! The absolute must for breakfast is of course Cafe du Monde. Go to the iconic location on Jackson Square—there will be a line on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s absolutely worth it for the best beignets and chicory coffee IN THE WORLD. Not exaggerating!

IMG_5054I would be content with beignets every morning, but if you need more variety in your breakfast fare, the Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters is absolutely incredible. You’d need two or three mornings to try everything, but if you’ve only got one, make sure to pick up as many crawfish and shrimp dishes as possible! Oh, and their biscuits are amazing. Ruby Slipper Cafe is another fantastic brunch spot—they don’t take reservations and there will be a wait, but it’s worth it! And their mimosas are great… and consist primarily of very tasty Champagne!

Lunch… mmm… lunch… There are so many options! Definitely make sure to get a po-boy at some point. This time around, I tried Mothers’ debris and gravy (that’s the meat that falls off the roast while it’s slowly cooking, along with a healthy helping of the flavorful juice) and it was awesome!

IMG_5057Regional specialties abound at the French Market—po-boys, crawfish, gumbo…. This time I tried Meals From the Heart Cafe’s crab cakes. Really crabby, really good, you can even get them gluten free if you’re in to that.

For a sit-down lunch or casual dinner, my number one choice is Gumbo Shop. I’m incredibly disappointed I didn’t get there this trip, I always get the Crawfish Combo Platter (with etouffee of course!) so I can get a little bit of everything! In years past, Cochon has also been a hit. If you end up venturing out of the French Quarter, try The Avenue Pub in the Garden District. They have a ridiculous number of beers on tap and their frites are uh-maz-ing!

The best part about knowing a local (besides knowing her, of course!) is getting out of the touristy areas and having and experience closer to real life in the city. For me, this of course means restaurants, and this trip that meant Capdeville. They specialize in whiskeys, I beleive, but the thing I remember most are the red beans and rice balls. They’re like Italian arancini, but made from the New Orleans staple. So tasty!

Honestly, there are too many amazing dinner places to name them all, but one of my favorite memories is K-Paul’s. Remember Chef Paul Prudhomme from the early days of food TV? He’s the big guy with the beard and beret, the “Magic” seasoning mixes, and a nearly 40-year-old standby restaurant. It’s heavy and southern and indulgent and absolutely delicious. He was even there when we went! This trip, we tried EAT New Orleans which was very good! And they were able to handle our 14-person party with no problem.

You really can’t go wrong. One of the best things about New Orleans is that they don’t let crappy (or good, for that matter!) chains open within the city limits. On top of that, the food scene is so vibrant, every restaurant has had to fight to survive—which means it’s really well done. Some of the best meals I’ve had were at restaurants I never even learned the names of—I couldn’t go back there if I tried… although I’m still dreaming of those corn and lobster beignets…

Where to drink: Again, you almost can’t go wrong (unless you order a blended drink on Bourbon Street. Then you’re just asking for trouble… and gut rot). I really appreciated the skill of NOLA bartenders this trip, as that’s a bit hard to come by in Bermuda. I had some delicious Old Fashioneds of course, but I also made a point to ask for a cocktail menu—something they don’t look down on here—and try something unique.

A don’t-miss spot for me is the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone. First of all, the main bar is topped with an actual carousel roof and it moves. The entire bar, the stools, wells and bartenders all rotate slowly—if you glance at it, you might not notice, but if you’re standing outside the bar stools, you’ll have to take a step every few minutes to catch up. Even more importantly, the space is elegant and beautiful, far enough to the edge of the Quarter that it’s usually not too crazy, and they make amazing craft cocktails. My favorite is the Ginger Royal, a mix of bourbon, Champagne and who knows what else.

This trip we also hit up Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which despite being on Bourbon Street, is actually pretty cool.

DSCF4240What to do: Walk around! This last trip we were lucky to stay in the Marigny/Bywater area, which is a bit east of the Quarter. We were nestled in a residential neighborhood, so we got to see a lot of the beautiful architecture: Shotgun houses mixed in with Creole cottages and grand mansions, brick sidewalks and ferns hanging from every porch.

DSCF4204Since you’ll be starting your day at Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square anyway, start there. Explore the blocks between Decatur and Bourbon or all the way up to Burgundy—get some pralines, explore the shops, have a beer, maybe pick up some sidewalk art. There are carriages lined up at the square and I’d highly recommend a ride, although perhaps wait until the evening.

One end of Decatur (which it splits into St. Peter’s) in the Quarter ends with chain shops and Harrah’s Casino, but at the other end, you’ll find the French Market, the oldest public market in the country. I’ve touched on the food offerings already, but you’ll also find jewelry and accessories, art and gifts here.

Once you’re French Quarter-ed out (or just tired of walking), hop on a streetcar to the Garden District. You must have exact change ($1.25 at the moment), and it moves slooowwww, but that’s good—you’ll get a chance to look at all the amazing houses in this neighborhood. And really, the streetcar is an adventure by itself.

Yes, there are museums and tours you can take, but I think the best thing about vacationing in New Orleans is just being there, settling in and letting whatever adventures come your way happen. Enjoy!

Turkey Day Leftovers

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I could eat turkey and dressing with a side of cranberry sauce for two weeks straight, but if you’re sick of dousing everything in gravy and throwing it in the microwave, here are a few creative solutions for the loads of leftovers!

 

Breakfast: Sweet Potato Hash

I make this hearty and nutritious breakfast all the time, but it sure is easier when you’ve already got most of the ingredients already prepped in your fridge!

Ingredients:
1-2 eggs per serving
Leftover roasted sweet potatoes, cubed
Leftover sausage or bacon, cooked and crumbled (I had bacon leftover from an appetizer, or turkey would work here too—dark meat would be best!)Fresh or leftover veggies—I love mushrooms, brussels sprouts would be fabulous as well. Toss in some onions and whatever else you’ve got in the fridge!

Throw veggies and meat in a hot, oiled frying pan. Heat thoroughly, making sure not to stir too often so you get some delicious caramelization. Portion onto plates, throw a little butter in the pan. Fry your eggs over easy or medium—you want a runny yolk to create a delicious sauce for your hash. Top each plate of hash with an egg or two and enjoy!

Want to make this dish but no cooked sweet potatoes to be found? Cube one up, cover with water and microwave for about 7 minutes, or until you can pierce the cubes with a fork. Much faster than the oven!

 

Lunch: Cranberry Turkey Panini

A little savory, a little sweet, all covered in melty cheese. What could be better? In my family, we make my grandma’s cranberry-orange relish from scratch, but this recipe might work even better with the canned stuff.

Ingredients:
2 pieces of bread, buttered
2 slices of cheese: whatever you’ve got hanging out in the fridge will work2 slices of turkey—I think I’d go light meat for this one
A hefty scoop of cranberry sauce or relish, drained of any extra liquid

Layer in a frying pan or panini maker in this order: Bread (buttered side down), cheese, turkey, cranberry, turkey, cheese, bread (buttered side up) to prevent the bread from getting soggy. You’ve made a grilled cheese, you know what to do.

Looking for a little more flavor? Try a smear of dijon mustard on the inside of the bread, or mix a little balsamic vinegar into the cranberry sauce (extra points if you cook it first to make a reduction).

 

Dinner: Turkey Tortilla Soup

My aunt gave me this recipe a few years back and I make it all the time. I usually pick up a rotisserie chicken because I’m too lazy to roast one myself, but you’ve already done the work so you can go scratch all the way after turkey day!

Ingredients:
2-4 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced (I use the pre-prepped stuff in a jar or tube, but garlic powder powder will NOT work here)
1 jalapeno, minced—WEAR GLOVES! I’ve burned my eyes more than once while taking my contacts out, several hours and several hand washings after cutting up a pepper
1 bunch of cilantro, plus more for topping
1/2 t. cumin (I usually eye ball it and end up using more)
6 oz. can of tomato paste
32 oz. (or more) chicken broth
Leftover turkey—I never measure the meat, but I basically pull a small rotisserie chicken. Dark meat is best in this recipe, so start with two drumsticks and add in some breast meat if you need it.

Toppings:
4+ tortillas, sliced and baked till crispy
1 avocado, cubed
shredded cheddarlime juice (optional, I don’t use it, but my mom says it makes the soup!)

In a large soup pot, saute the veggies in olive oil. When they’re soft, add the cumin and hit them with a stick blender to make a puree. Cook for another minute or two, then add the stock and stir in the tomato paste. Let it simmer for a bit, then add the turkey, continuing to simmer until it’s warm. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve and top with whatever ingredients appeal to you—but definitely tortillas and cilantro!

How to Grow an Avocado Tree

avocadosLadies and gentlemen, we have a sprout! While an actual tree may be a while off, these little guys are already defying my dubious expectations (chronicled here). So, as promised, here’s what I did:

  1. Make guacamole, duh!
  2. Remove any remaining flesh. Let the pit sit out for about a day to dry a bit.
  3. Peel the thin, dark brown skin from the tan flesh of the pit.
  4. Stick 3 wooden skewers 1/4″ or so into the pit so as to suspend it about halfway in water.
  5. Place stem-side down in a container filled with water, set on a sunny window sill and wait! You’ll need to refill the water regularly.

I noticed the pits starting to split down the middle about a week in. Another week in, and one of my pits has a visible root growing from the bottom of it, while the other’s root is still in the crack. My friend Kaia left hers to grow in water for several months, until the stem that will (hopefully) eventually come out of the top of the pit was more than 8 inches tall.

Have fun and good luck!

Adventures in Agriculture

I have what some might call a black thumb… That is I’ve killed nearly every plant I’ve ever owned. The only house plant I’ve ever had long-lasting success with is fondly named Spike, a succulent I picked up at the Dane County Farmers Market three summers back. Since I wasn’t sure if I could bring plants to Bermuda (and he was outgrowing his container again anyway), before I moved, I divided him up, repotted and gave him to friends and family.

However, I’ve decided that Bermuda’s high humidity could be the key to horticultural success. Forgot to water for… ahem… a while? No problem—90% humidity means the soil is still moist anyway! (And my hair has the texture of a Brillo pad.) So I hit up a local nursery and picked up some serious green.

First up: house plants! I honestly have no idea what the ones on the left are… their names have already escaped my brain. The ones on the right are tillandsia, or air plants… which I love and have managed to kill over and over again. Seriously! It doesn’t even need dirt and I can’t keep it alive! Again, I blame Wisconsin winters.

picstitchProduce here is expensive, not always the greatest quality and sometimes not even available. We are so spoiled in the U.S.! So I wanted to get a few things that we could eat. It’s an odd time of the year to start a garden, but I did manage to pick up a few strawberry plants and a really great selection of herbs. At first I had them mixed together in one long container, but the basil and mint are well on their way to shading everything else, and one of my strawberry plants sent out a runner, so I thought everyone could use a little more space to thrive. See, success already!

garden 2The last “plant” I’m working on is really more of an experiment. My friend Kaia (who blogs here) had a bit of a project going when I stopped by her house the other day. She had grown an avocado tree from a pit and was finally potting it. Apparently you can grow trees in your house! Anyway, I picked her brain for a how-to and now I’ve got two pits sitting in water… who knows what will happen. I’d share instructions, but I’m not even sure I did it right, so if I were you, I’d google! If—big if—I have anything sprout, I’ll share by expertise then!

avocadosOh, and finally: limes. I certainly did not grow these, but Andrew picked them last weekend when he was golfing and hit a bad shot into a wooded area. Because we live in a place where lime trees just grow naturally. I wonder how long it will take me to get used to that!

limes 1

Gift Guide: It’s Wedding Season!

Despite the snow on the ground, wedding season must be nearly upon us—I just received my first pearlized envelope in the mail. So what’s a gracious guest to do? Start planning the gift now instead of grabbing whatever’s left on the registry on the way to the reception.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: Many modern couple just want cash. It’s easy for you, it leaves them free to spend it on whatever they need. Rare is the bride and groom who don’t already live together and really need to stock a new home. I’m not saying don’t go out and get something to wrap up, but if you don’t? Hey, that’s ok. Get a nice card (ahem, we have a few suggestions), throw in some cash and call it a day.

Now on to the more three-dimensional presents! (This is a gift guide after all.) First up: Registries are there for a reason! Believe it or not, nobody wants the $5 set of fish-shaped serving bowls you found at TJ Maxx (true story). Choose something from the couple’s registry, then find a way to make it more fun. Do they want a wok? Fill it with hoisin, soy sauce, rice noodles and a cookbook. Did they register for always-exciting new flatware? Package them up with a napkin and funky napkin ring for each place setting. A box of plates can come wrapped in a tablecloth. You get the idea.

If—and this is a big if—you know the couple really, really well, you may [pause for dramatic effect]… go off registry.

Make sure you’re gift is something they couldn’t register for—maybe something completely custom like the “Story of Us” wall hanging above, or a product handmade by a local artisan, like any of the cast iron pans shaped like Midwestern states below.

Another great option? Find something the couple can do together. Fund a date night (a gift card to their favorite restaurant or wine bar and concert tickets ought to do the trick), give vouchers for a cooking class or start a new hobby (beer or wine-making kit anyone?).

Best friends with the bride?  Give her something truly special: a custom fashion illustration of her dress. Local artist Jen Thompson of Illustrate the Dress created this beauty below (modeled by Miss Mollie Busby on her wedding day).

Whatever you give, do so with love and know that your presence on the dance floor well past 11pm means just as much—if not more—than whatever you set on the gift table 5 hours prior. Happy wedding season!